Scarlett Johansson voices anger at OpenAI's unauthorized soundalike

Sam Altman liked the sound of a fictional ScarBot, which makes this all a bit creepy

Audio Movie megastar Scarlett Johansson has complained that one of the voices OpenAI's ChatGPT uses in voice interactions sounds eerily like her own – despite having rebuffed an approach to record a bot for the AI hype leader.

This odd tale starts in 2013, with the release of a film named "Her" in which Joaquin Phoenix's character falls in love with an AI assistant named Samantha, voiced by Johansson.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has previously expressed his admiration for the film.

The next act in the story takes place in 2023, when OpenAI approached Johansson seeking a license to use her voice in a future product.

Johansson declined.

In September 2023, OpenAI launched a voice interface to ChatGPT. One of the voices is called "Sky".

On May 11 of this year, OpenAI again approached Johansson, and Altman asked her to reconsider.

On May 13, OpenAI announced GPT-4o, which includes an improved voice-output mode. Altman marked the occasion with a Xeet containing just one word: "Her".

At an unidentified point, Johansson heard OpenAI's voices and decided Sky's dulcet tones were uncomfortably like her own.

"I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine that my closest friends and news outlets could not tell the difference," she told NPR.

Johansson felt the reference to the film Her in Altman's Xeet was an insinuation the similarity between her voice and that of Sky was intentional, and that the OpenAI boss had therefore acted against her wishes.

"In a time when we are all grappling with deepfakes and the protection of our own likeness, our own work, our own identities, I believe these are questions that deserve absolute clarity," Johansson told NPR.

The actor's publicist told NPR Johansson has lawyered up and "sent OpenAI two letters asking the company to detail the process by which it developed a voice the tech company dubbed 'Sky'."

OpenAI has responded with a post titled, "How the voices for ChatGPT were chosen," that reveals a lengthy audition process in which 400 submissions were considered as OpenAI sought out human actors. The AI super-lab eventually chose five anonymous actors to provide voice talent, and in September 2023 launched their voices onto ChatGPT.

Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson, but belongs to a different professional actress

That post states: "We believe that AI voices should not deliberately mimic a celebrity's distinctive voice – Sky’s voice is not an imitation of Scarlett Johansson, but belongs to a different professional actress using her own natural speaking voice."

OpenAI has nonetheless withdrawn Sky. Because who wants to be on the wrong side of Black Widow?

The drama comes on the heels of OpenAI's safety boss, Jan Leike, bailing after claiming the firm pays insufficient attention to the downsides of AI.

Among those issues are using neural networks to create fake speech that imitates well-known people – a practice feared to have enormous potential to distort political debate and spread misinformation.

Another oddity about this incident is that Sky has been available since September 2023, yet Altman mentioned "Her" only on May 13, and Johansson's statement came soon after. ®

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